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GOOD AND EVIL, CHARACTER AND MORALITY

by Robert M. Young

As I sat down to begin composing this lecture, I came across the following statement in a posting to an internet discussion group on the practice of psychotherapy: ‘I strongly believe that the goal of any therapy is to work toward responsible accountable behavior, even if that includes acceptance of powerlessness, and then movement to accountable responsible behavior’. If I understand this statement correctly, it implies that moral accountability is a goal of psychotherapy, and it points to a desirable trajectory from amorality or immorality or diminished responsibility toward the realm of morality. You might think it eccentric or trendy of me to begin with quotes from the internet, but I can assure you that important work is going on in cyberspace, no matter how hyped it is in the mass media. When I last looked there were over 8000 people taking part in nearly forty email forums in a consortium called Inter-Psych (founded, incidentally by a mature student at Sheffield University), including psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, psychiatry, psychiatric social work. Outside that consortium there are a number of forums on counselling and other aspects of the helping professions. (I have just worked my way through a list from one of the three main software formats of over 8000 email forums, including any topic you can think of, e.g., all sorts of disability, any philosopher, any social or political or medical issue). Anyone wanting help about how to get on-line and join in these global debates, please let me have your name and address, and I’ll send out a simple guide.

My point in bringing up the internet is that discussions about the origins and psychology of evil and aggression and debates about morality in our field are occurring all the time on the forums I mentioned, as well as others on the psychological study of the arts and the philosophy of literature to which I subscribe. People are shaken, sobered, shocked, searching. I have in mind the behaviour of young people, sexual abuse, gangs, drugs, drive-by killings, riots, ethnic cleansing, genocide, proliferating Mafias, yardies, Armageddon cults, the Bulger case, civil wars, murder of street urchins and fatal neglect of babies. I was a child during World War Two and have vivid memories of what it involved and what was revealed in its wake, yet I cannot remember such a morally uncertain time as the present.

I chose the words in my title because they are, for the most part, unfashionable in professional and medical and helping profession circles. Indeed, they are unfashionable — even embarrassing — in all professional circles, except, perhaps the professional circles of theologians, priests, ethics scholars and certain cultists. Even so, I think they are important and that they are on our minds all the time. I want to try to close the gap between what we do and those concepts. I am not here to argue abstruse moral theory. Quite the reverse. I want to claim that we think in terms of good and evil, character and morality all the time and want to suggest that we do so rather less coyly.

I collect cartoons about psychotherapy and send them to Nina Coltart; it’s a sort of affair, which recently gave birth to a collection of her essays. One of my favourites shows the therapist leaning forward, over the top of the couch, so that his face is directly over that of the patient. The caption reads, ‘You swine!’ We laugh because this is so utterly taboo. Patients laugh because it portrays a recurrent fear. Therapist laugh because they want to do exactly this from time to time — at least I do.

But this is not my preferred entry point. That is the concept of the perverse, one I want to distinguish, at least for the moment, from perversion, a more problematic concept of which I have elsewhere asked if it is obsolete. The perverse, however, is decidedly not so. Perverse thought involves precisely the inversion of the moral order: fair is foul and foul is fair. The patient hates the good and pursues evil with great gusto. Think of Richard III, Macbeth, people who torture and kill old people. I have in mind a paper my Margot Waddell and Gianna Williams in which they describe a young boy who is already deeply and — they fear, irretrievably — committed to perverse thought. Herbert Rosenfeld has described destructive narcissism in similar terms. The patient is in the thrall of a ‘gang in the mind’, subservient to a Mafia leader who keeps the patient from co-operating with the authorities in the person of the therapist. Betty Joseph describes people addicted to near death who only appear to take part in the analytic process and are perversely chuntering and keeping change at bay.

I cite these clinical phenomena to make my point straightaway. We are deeply into questions of good and evil. Our patients are persecuted by primitive guilt feelings. They aspire to the good (we infer this from the fact that they keep coming) but cannot allow themselves to develop anything like their full potentials, sometimes because of terribly low self-esteem, sometimes because of fear of Oedipal triumph. They may long for wholesome relations with another but find themselves caught up in a shameful, primitive, even retaliatory part-object relationship involving cruelty and revenge. I have a patient who hid behind a painful phimosis until he was in his mid-thirties. After circumcision, when he could make love, he found he could only have an orgasm as a result of spanking. Not playful, mind you: the sort of spank where you see the mark the next time you meet the person. It took him more than a year to tell me about this and about the prostitutes he visited. It took lots of work about his humiliating mother and aunt and his castrated father before he could have penetrative sex and a lot more before he could love his partner, who, in the meantime lost patience and withdrew from the relationship. I have another patient in a position of moral trust who indulges in mutual masturbation with an inappropriate and not fully consenting person. This patient is also put off and threatened by penetrative sex. He would be the first to say that what he does is wrong. He manages it by plying his partner with drink and having lots himself. He gives up the mutual masturbation from time to time, but it was years before he acknowledged to me that this weekly activity had been going on for more than a decade with a person whose father had entrusted the partner to his care. He has not managed to achieve his goal of becoming potent with a woman and having penetrative sex.

Both of these patients feel immoral, and I agree with them. They brought the moral framework with them. My job was not to preach amorality. It was to get behind the paralysing and unproductive guilt to understanding. However, while doing so I never hinted that what they were doing was not wrong.

I went to a conference a couple of weeks ago and heard a paper on breaches of confidentiality in the history of psychoanalysis. My own position on this matter has always been that confidentiality is absolute, except for supervision. I won’t even respond to a letter from a training organisation except to tell them that I do not answer such letters and that they should put no interpretation on this fact. One of the commentators at the conference was a person who specialises in working with child sexual abusers, that is, children who sexually abuse other children. She was perfectly straightforward in saying that confidentiality is not always maintained in her work. More than that, she argued persuasively that her patients are relieved to have boundaries imposed where they had been weak in the family and in their inner worlds. Of course, she doesn’t ring the police on day one, but she does make it clear that if the child does not stop the abuse and tell the relevant people, she will, in due course, do so. She takes the same position about adult abusers. I found this implausible and asked if the therapy was thereby made impossible. Not at all, she replied. It was enhanced. The patients knew perfectly well that what they were doing was wrong, even evil.

How can we hold in our minds the moral and the clinical? I am suggesting that one way is to see that they are not at odds. What are our goals? I can recall two which I bear in mind during my work: to work and to love (from Freud) and getting the patient to ‘take back the projections’ (from Bollas). Another, specifically Kleinian formulation, is to help the patient to dwell less in a frame of mind that is persecutory, full of part-object relations and more in a position where there are whole object relations, concern for the object, depressive rather than persecutory guilt and efforts are made at reparation. I cannot see these as other than moral goals.

Our failures to approach them can be put in strictly moralistic language — as commandments or sins. Indeed, if we look at the seven deadly sins, they can easily be recognised as symptoms: avarice, gluttony, pride, lust, anger, sloth and envy. Each of those sins is easily expressed in clinical terms and seen as a symptom. Indeed, Melanie Klein wrote a short book in which envy is paired with the constructive emotion of gratitude. Klein says, ‘There are very pertinent psychological reasons why envy ranks among the seven "deadly sins". I would even suggest that it is felt to be the greatest sin of all, because it spoils and harms the good object which is the source of life. This view is consistent with the view described by Chaucer in The Parson’s Tale: "It is certain that envy is the worst sin that is; for all other sins are sins only against one virtue, whereas envy is against all virtue and against all goodness." The feeling of having injured and destroyed the primal object impairs the individual’s trust in the sincerity of his later relations and makes him doubt his capacity for love and goodness. (Klein, 1957, p. 189). If we look at the ten commandments and the beatitudes, we are also not far from symptoms: lying, covetousness, murder, theft, adultery, and the positive injunctions to honour parents and God and keep the Sabbath. Each has its psychopathological equivalent. The meek, the poor, the pure in spirit, the peacemakers can be seen as people who dwell in the depressive position and do not live by splits and persecutions.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not trying to psychoanalyse morality or moralise psychoanalysis. I am merely pointing out that if we do not steep ourselves in the scientistic language of some forms of metapsychology so much that we only refer to structures, energies, cathexes and topographies, we are using moral concepts in our daily clinical work, and we are certainly working with people whose distress involves guilt and self-inhibition. As the conference rubric puts it, ‘Our work is often with people who are struggling with these themes as metaphors for their internal world’. The failures in relating which we seek to heal, the injunction not to treat fellow human beings as objects or mere means to our own ends — these strike me as goals which are at once therapeutic and moral.

I want to take us to the heart of this matter developmentally. There is a passage in a paper by Melanie Klein, presented in 1946, which purports to identify the prototype for all aggressive object relations. If I understand this claim aright, she believes that she has found the basis of all destructiveness, the elemental expression of the death instinct. Before quoting it, I should say quite straightforwardly that neither Freud nor Klein (nor, for that matter, Karl Menninger, the author of Man against Himself, (1938), a classic on this topic) believed in innocence. All believed that destructiveness was inherent in human nature. On this account, there is no innocence to be lost. Instead, we are initially given to destructiveness, and our task is to become civilised and to remain so as much as we can.

Klein concludes seven pages on the fine texture of early paranoid and schizoid mechanisms as follows: 'So far, in dealing with persecutory fear, I have singled out the oral element. However, while the oral libido still has the lead, libidinal and aggressive impulses and phantasies from other sources come to the fore and lead to a confluence or oral, urethral and anal desires, both libidinal and aggressive. Also the attacks on the mother's breast develop into attacks of a similar nature on her body, which comes to be felt as it were as an extension of the breast, even before the mother is conceived of as a complete person. The phantasied onslaughts on the mother follow two main lines: one is the predominantly oral impulse to suck dry, bite up, scoop out and rob the mother's body of its good contents... The other line of attack derives from the anal and urethral impulses and implies expelling dangerous substances (excrements) out of the self and into the mother. Together with these harmful excrements, expelled in hatred, split-off parts of the ego are also projected onto the mother or, as I would rather call it, into the mother. These excrements and bad parts of the self are meant not only to injure but also to control and to take possession of the object. In so far as the mother comes to contain the bad parts of the self, she is not felt to be a separate individual but is felt to be the bad self.

'Much of the hatred against parts of the self is now directed towards the mother. This leads to a particular form of identification which establishes the prototype of an aggressive object-relation' (Klein, 1946, pp. 7-8). I want to note again that we have here the model — the template, the fundamental experience — of all of the aggressive features of human relations. Six years later Klein adds the following sentence: 'I suggest for these processes the term "projective identification"' (ibid.).

She goes on to say that if the infant's impulse is to harm, the mother is experienced as persecuting, and that in psychotic disorders the identification of the object with hated parts of the self 'contributes to the intensity of the hatred directed against other people', that this process weakens the ego, that good parts are also projected and that 'The processes of splitting off parts of the self and projecting them into objects are thus of vital importance for normal development as well as for normal object-relations' (pp. 8-9). In the course of all this, Klein makes it quite clear that the very same processes involve 'anxieties characteristic of psychosis' (p. 2).

I am relating these matters in the way that I am in order to make it apparent that the very same mechanisms are at work in a wide range of internal processes. Moreover, the same mechanism is at work in both benign and malignant forms of projective identification. In its benign form it is the basis of all communication, internally, with the external world and with others. In its malignant form it underlies hatred, murderousness, racism, virulent nationalism. I have made a careful study of the literature on projective identification and am satisfied that this frustrating conclusion — that the same mechanism is involved in all communication as well as in good and evil object relations — is valid and supported by that literature. I concur with the following summary by Torras de Beā. After reviewing the development of the concept, he writes, 'These authors consider that projective identification is the basic mechanism of empathy and primitive communication and also of the defence mechanism which consists of dissociating and projecting anxiety in order to be rid of it. I agree with this and think also that what we call projective identification is the active element in every communication from empathy to the most pathological and defensive' (Torras de Beā, 1989, p. 266). He concludes that it is 'the mechanism basic to all human interaction' (p. 272).

So, when we ask what it is that we have to give up in order to know, I suggest that we have to give up extremism. Put another way, in order not to give way to evil and immoral impulses, we have to learn to sublimate our aggressive impulses and to keep the unsublimated ones in a temperate band. This was, of course, Freud’s basic argument in the essays where he ruminated on the basic elements of human nature, e.g., Totem and Taboo, Beyond the Pleasure Principle and Civilization and Its Discontents. He saw our basic nature as riven with constructive and destructive impulses and claimed that life is lived in the space between two basic instincts, of Eros or life and Thanatos or death. In order to be civilised we have to learn to sublimate our greedy and rapacious impulses, This is brought about by guilt, which keeps us within the system of norms, of which the taboo against incest was the first and remains the most fundamental. The struggle to maintain the veneer of civilisation is perpetual, and the price we pay for it is the inevitability of discontent or neurosis. What we have to give up in order to know, to put it differently yet again, is omnipotence and unrestrained self-indulgence.

I want to turn now to the topic of character, and I want to do so in the context of our work with students. I say ‘our’ in a straightforward way. I do not currently teach undergraduates, but I do teach and supervise graduate students and trainee psychotherapists. I have also had one or more child in the British educational system for more than thirty years. More specifically, I was a college tutor for a long time and wrote the document which led to the establishment of the Cambridge University Counselling Service, where my wife worked for a number of years. I currently supervise university counsellors. I say this to support my use of ‘our’ work with students.

It is my firm impression that current young people suffer from a relative lack of the kinds of boundaries and moral frameworks which were taken for granted when I was an undergraduate at Yale in the 1950s and when I was a Cambridge don in the 1960s and 70s. Such generalisations are notoriously suspect, and I accept that I run the risk of striking you as a fuddy duddy. I don’t mind if I do. The late lamented historian and cultural critic, Christopher Lasch, once said that current youth suffer from ‘lack of project’. Since three of my children are professionals working in areas I admire — screen writing, the bar and medicine — you could say I am being too fastidious., but I feel it all the same. I feel it with respect to the impact of the relativism of postmodernism and the careerism of many young people. I often find students wanting to know more about what is required than what is interesting, not reading around their work. I do not need to be told that this is significantly related to cuts and rising fees, for example, recent rises here. I am not saying that these young people have inherently inferior moral fibre. What I am saying is that character suffers in times such as ours.

Let me say what I mean by character, a term which is not used in the lay sense in psychoanalysis. I shall approach the topic historically, partly because I am an historian of psychology and partly because it will help me to make my point about our need for a concept of character. Character was central to the psychology of the individual until well into the twentieth century. Baldwin’s authoritative Dictionary of Philosophy and Psychology said, ‘Individual psychology is the science of character’ (Baldwin, 1901, vol. 1, p. 173). The systematic study of individuals was a discipline set apart from the mainstream of psychology in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which was intellectualist in its concerns, and was borne first by physiognomy and then phrenology, whose greatest exponents were, respectively, J. C. Lavater (1775-78) and F. J. Gall (1910-19. 1822-25; see Young, 1972, 1979a, 1990, ch. 1). These were profoundly democratising traditions, claiming that character was apparent on the surface of the visage, which, the phrenologists believed, reflected the size and importance of the underlying brain structures. When Britain’s most eminent pre-evolutionary psychologist, Alexander Bain, had finished publishing his major works in the prevailing mode, he wrote a separate book, On the Study of Character, including an Estimate of Phrenology (1861). It is said that the phrenological approach to understanding and cultivating character was so popular that the households of self-improving artisans in nineteenth-century Britain were likely to have three books: The Bible, Pilgrim’s Progress and George Combe’s phrenological primer The Constitution of Man (1827).

However, as the turn of the century approached, the climate was so changed away from characterology and toward ‘personality’ that William James’ masterpiece, The Principles of Psychology, did not include the topic (1890). When, in 1927, A. A. Roback produced a comprehensive, magisterial tome, The Psychology of Character, subtitled with a Survey of Personality in General, (which went through three editions, was still in print in the mid-1960s and was accompanied by a book-length separate volume of references), ‘character’ was losing even more ground to ‘personality’ as the prevailing concept for the understanding of individuality. The terms Character and Personality (as in the title of William McDougall’s study of 1933; see Hearnshaw, 1964, p. 189) coexisted for a time, but most surveys of the scope of psychology published during the period 1930-1950 gave little place to ‘character’, which increasingly found its main expression, not in works in academic psychology but in searching biographies, of which four classics of the genre (chosen because strong on character assessment) come to mind: Ralph Barton Perry’s The Thought and Character of William James (1935), Carl Sandberg’s six-volume Abraham Lincoln, (1926-39), Robert Caro’s three-volume The Years of Lyndon Johnson (1983, 1990, vol. 3 in preparation) and L. S. Hearnshaw’s Cyril Burt. (1979). The recent and growing use of more or less sophisticated versions of psychoanalysis in the genre of psychobiography brings us full circle, since psychoanalysis is used as a tool in the assessment of character, while the concept has little place in psychoanalysis itself. (In separate essays I have put forward the claims of biography to be the basic discipline for a human science, made a case study of Darwin’s biographers and have summarised the strengths and weaknesses of psychobiography — Young, 1987,1988, 1994c).

‘Character’ has disappeared entirely from the classificatory scheme of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM III-R, 1987), the bible of orthodox psychiatric diagnosis. If you look carefully, you can find the old ‘character disorders’ — alcoholism, drug addiction, sexual deviancy and psychopathy (Magaro and Ashbrook, 1984) — reclassified in sanitised form. Alcoholism and drug addiction reappear as disorders in their own right, and the others turn up as ‘sexual’, ‘factitious’, ‘impulse control’, ‘adjustment’ and ‘personality’ disorders. Nor can the concept of character be found in the widely-used UCH Textbook of Psychiatry (Wolff et al., 1990), though, once again, you can find personality disorders and ‘disorders of impulse control’ aplenty. The term ‘character’ does make a number of appearances in the psychoanalytic vocabulary, but in none of them is it unmodified. We find ‘character armour’, ‘character disorder’, ‘character neurosis’, ‘character types’ (both Jungian and Eysenck), but nowhere is character unadorned.

Laplanche and Pontalis go on and on about ‘confusion’, the ‘multiplicity of possible meanings’ and lack of rigour (1983, p. 67) with respect to character neurosis. Their first definition refers to ‘any clinical picture which does not at first sight exhibit symptoms but merely modes of behaviour leading to recurrent or permanent difficulty in the patient’s relation to his environment’ (ibid.). They go on to ‘a psychoanalytically oriented characterology which correlates different character types either with the major psychoneurotic conditions (speaking of obsessional, phobic, paranoiac characters and so on) or else with the various stages of libidinal development (which are said to correspond to oral, anal, urethral phallic-narcissistic and genital character types — sometimes reclassified in terms of the major opposition between genital and pre-genital characters). According to this approach it is legitimate to speak of character neurosis when referring to any apparently asymptomatic neurosis where it is the type of character which betrays a pathogenic organisation’ (ibid.).

They next describe a character formation which involves a once-for-all defensive structure adopted to preserve the patient against symptoms and against instinctual threats. Sublimation, reaction formation and rationalisation predominate in this syndrome. A fourth conception of character neurosis places anomalies of character somewhere between neurotic symptoms and psychotic disorders (pp. 67-8). (It occurs to me that this is one way of thinking about John Steiner’s concept of pathological organisation of psychic retreat, stuck between the paranoid schizoid and depressive positions.)

I find all these conceptions of interest, as I do Wilhelm Reich’s notion of ‘character armour’ and the broader idea of character as defence developed in his Character Analysis (1933) and his The Mass Psychology of Fascism, that ‘the character structure is the congealed sociological process of a given epoch. He adds that ‘A society’s ideologies can become a material force only on condition that they change the character structures of the people’ (Reich, 1933a, p. xxvi). Frankly, however, none of these is what I am really after in my present enquiry. Horace and Eva English take us to the concept I seek in their Dictionary of Psychological and Psychoanalytic Terms (1958). First, they describe character as that which makes a person different from someone else; then they take all such marks collectively — all the mental or behavioural traits of a person, the sum total of their psychological traits. They point out that this was formerly the meaning of ‘character’ in English, as it still is in French and German. In English, however, it has for the most part been replaced by the term which, as we have seen, has become ubiquitous in the clinical realm: ‘personality’. You could say, then, that personality is the concept in scientific psychology which has replaced character for describing what is unique about a person.

I will not settle for this, and I’ll bet you won’t either. It only takes a moment to see why. Try this: ‘She has "personality".’ versus ‘She has "character".’ ‘She has a good personality.’ versus ‘She has a good character.’ Not the same things at all, are they? What’s the difference? English and English are perfectly clear about this. Their next definition says just what I hoped it would: ‘an integrated system of traits or behavior tendencies that enables one to react, despite obstacles, in a relatively consistent way in relation to mores and moral issues... It is distinguished from personality by its emphasis upon (a) the volitional aspect, and (b) morality’ (English & English, 1958, p. 83).

So, character is about being a moral person and involves volition or intentions. An immoral person has a bad character. An unreliable person has a weak character. Being of good character has a connotation of admirable steadfastness: Gary Cooper in ‘High Noon’. He wants to run, and everyone says it’s okay if he does. He might lose his new bride, who was Grace Kelly, after all. if he stays. But he has to stay and face the man who, according to the theme song of the film, ‘made a vow while in state prison’ and ‘said he’d trade his life for his’n’. It’s the lawman’s duty, even though he had just handed in his badge. The new man isn’t arriving until tomorrow, and Coop has the character to stand firm, even though he’s scared and wants to go off and start his new life. This is the stuff of heroism. It isn’t just about physical strength and violence. Mother Teresa has character. The good Samaritan had character. Ordinary people who behave well in ordinary situations and at life’s extremes have character. It’s not just ego strength; it cannot be captured in a scientific or scientistic language, because its essence is moral — behaving well against the odds.

I think psychoanalysis has interesting things to say about character but that its essence slips through the net, rather as Freud said that love slips through its net. I think the things psychoanalysis says make it harder to be of good character, since it takes us to the inner meaning of things. In legal parlance you can be ‘of good character’ if you pay your bills, don’t get arrested and don’t have any County Court judgements against you. But in psychoanalytic terms, if your apparently good self is the result of a violent split so that you are trading in idealisations, the other side of the split will out. This was obvious in the case of the television preachers in the US, many of whom turned out to be crooks and whore mongers. It is less obvious in the case of some goody-goodies who get to be head girls and head boys in schools and psychoanalytic training institutions, but it is axiomatic that it is there — somewhere in that person’s phantasies and relationships. It is interesting to speculate where the other side of Mother Teresa’s split manifests itself. It is said that she only allows lepers to kiss her.

I am arguing that one of the reasons people come to us is that their characters are not sufficiently strong to meet the compromises of the times, and they are tempted by careerism, cynicism, opportunism, treating others as means, not ends. I am an historian of ideas, among them what was known as the debate on ‘man’s place in nature’ in nineteenth-century Britain, the furore about Darwinism, and I have spent a lot of my life studying Victorian lives and letters and controversies. I also spent, as I have said, a long time in Cambridge. I mention these facts to reassure you that I know perfectly well that being attracted to careerism, opportunism and sleaze are not new temptations in recent years. However, it is my firm belief that admirable alternatives to these trajectories are not as apparently accessible and attractive to young people or to any of us, for that matter, as they were even a decade ago. The squeeze on resources and jobs and the rise of cynical, relativist, despairing and whimsical cultural theory have as an obvious concomitant, a squeeze on moral space, and many people come to our consulting rooms with less well laid foundations for their adult characters than they would be likely to have done in earlier times.

I think this has two consequences, one very abstract, the other very concrete. The abstract one is to make it an urgent desideratum in philosophy and cultural theory to re-examine the fundamental split between fact and value and concomitant splits between science and morality, mechanism and purpose and other parallel ones which are fundamental to the modern world view. They became prominent in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries during the scientific revolution, and the Protestant and capitalist revolutions interdigitated with it to give us new definitions of nature, human nature, the individual and the relationship of the individual to values and morality. In all of these movements value was sequestered — sequestered from scientific explanation, from the labour process in manufacturing — and was driven deep inside the individual’s inner world. It could be that psychiatry, psychotherapy and psychoanalysis are the final repositories of this sequestration, a thesis argued by Michel Foucault as the final conclusion of his book, Madness and Civilisation: that the final frontier in the trajectory from chains to moral treatment is that we must take responsibility for our unconscious motivations.

I do not wish to shy away from that responsibility. However, being clear that we and our patients should bear it is impeded by a number of attitudes which are heir to the triple revolution in science, the mode of production and possessive individualism which brought in the modern era. One is the neutrality of science. We are now learning that science is not neutral: it is the embodiment of values in theories, therapies and things, in facts and artefacts. Scientists and technologists pursue agendas, they have philosophies of nature, world views. All facts are theory-laden; all theories are value-laden; all values exist within an ideology or world view. New developments in medicine, genetic engineering, information technology and threats to the environment are making it a matter of extreme urgency that we reintegrate values and science or, more accurately, make explicit the values which have been sequestered in scientific explanation.

This topic is not only out there in the wider environment, external to the consulting room. It affects how we see ourselves in our professional roles. One of the manifestations of scientism was the ideology of professionalism, which claimed that professionals were, in their ways, like scientists, above the battle of political and economic and ideological forces. It is not so, and this takes me from the very abstract consequence I have been outlining to the very concrete one with which I shall conclude. We are in the thick of it. Of course, we have our forms of tolerance, forbearance and abstinence, but the whole point of my paper today has been to say that these aspects of the analytic frame are there in order to facilitate our being of service to our patients and clients in the struggle to behave morally and to build character, to have strong enough internal objects so that people can behave well in spite of the forces which are at work leading us to treat the relations between people as though they were relations between things. The helping professions exist to fight reification, of which envy and virulent projective identification are prime examples. To revert to the rubruc of today’s conference, what we have to give up in order to know is the false consciousness of professionalism: we are moral, political and ideological practitioners, and we have to take responsibility for being implicated in the struggles in the world, represented in the institutions and cultures in the minds of our patients and clients. The analytic frame provides a relatively safe space to go into the intimate aspects of these matters, but it does not make us free from the vicissitudes of being morally implicated. That makes our clinical task of containment and detoxification even more challenging and urgent.

 

This is the text of a paper presented to the annual conference of the Oxford University Counselling Service 23 June 1995, on the topic: ‘The Loss of Innocence: What Do you Lose in Order to Learn?’.

Addres for correspondence: 26 Freegrove Rd., London N7 9RQ

robert@rmy1.demon.co.uk

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